On November 19, after a brief intermission, Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, on New York City's Upper West Side, officially reopened with a revamped look and a new approach. The 22-year-old bookstore, founded and owned by Glenn Young, now sells used and out-of-print books as well as new, mixing them together on the shelves in a way made most famous by Powell's Books in Portland, Ore.
Of the decision to stock out-of-print titles, Young said, "It was critical. We needed to find a way to open ourselves to the profession and to people who care about theater. We needed used books to set us apart. If we couldn't set ourselves apart, we'd close."
The used titles fill in important gaps that would exist if the store continued to stock only new titles, Young said. He noted that theater essentials such as On Directing by Harold Clurman and The Empty Space by Peter Brook are in print, but that some classics, such as On Acting by Tyrone Guthrie and Life of Theatre by Julian Beck, are out of print—but Applause carries them now.
The biography section is much deeper than those in new-only bookstores. Theater criticism is "often short-lived" so many important titles are out of print. Even the play script section, which probably has the biggest turnover in the store, has titles that go out of print. "It's great to offer older plays in hardcover," Young added.
Other popular sections in the store include writing ("Scratch anyone in New York enough, and they will tell you about their screenplay," Young said) and scenes and monologues ("and if they aren't writing, they're auditioning for a part").
Readily admitting that he had long had a widespread "prejudice" against selling new and used books in the same space, Young said having out-of-print books "gives us all access to culture. Culture ceases to be culture when it's inaccessible." Presses decide to drop books for a variety of reasons, he noted, and out-of-print books often still have an audience. Yet he joked that his customers, if asked what books they like to read, might answer, "New books!"
Young reclaimed management of the store this year after a partner had run it for two years. For reasons beyond the partner's control, he had neither the time nor money to do the job adequately, and the store became almost moribund, Young said. It was understaffed, and the inventory kept shrinking. As the store verged on closing, Young consulted with his friends, attorney and accountant about what to do, and they reached a unanimous decision: Young should move on. "But I couldn't let go," Young said. He also had the advantage, he said, of remembering what is was like when the store first opened, when he had no customers and no inventory. This time around, the store has "20 years of goodwill in the theatrical community and a name that resonates in the field."
Young was buoyed when he was able to get solid funding from various investors, including, among others, screenwriter William Goldman; Broadway producer Stewart Lane; Jacqueline Miller Rice, who backed two Library of America books of Dawn Powell's work; prominent New York attorney Robert Bachner; major cultural supporters Daniel Ng and Virginia Manheimer; and Peter Vegso of Health Communications Inc. In each case, Young said, he didn't have to make a detailed pitch; his plans were greeted with instant applause. "They said, 'If we can save it, let's save it,' " he said. "They made me feel it was not just Glenn holding on to his past. The community wanted this in its future."
With 2,000 square feet of space, Applause stocks more than 20,000 books. During the renovation, Applause refinished the shelves, replaced the carpeting and added twice as much lighting. "There nothing so bad as a dark bookstore," Young said.
The store obtains used books from estate and library sales as well as from customers (for cash or credit). By just one measure, Applause is succeeding in finding suitable "old" titles: since reopening, the store has added 2,500 different titles.
Almost 20 years ago, Young founded a publishing company, Applause Books, where he continues to be very active. For a time, the offices were in the back of the store, adding a reality check. Sometimes questions about jackets were settled by consulting customers who happened to be in the store at the time, Young said. Some book ideas continue to derive from requests from customers for books that didn't exist. "I can tell them, 'Call back in 18 months,' " Young said.
Young is also producing a video about how Shakespeare "comes alive off the page given the proper environment." Jeremy Irons is the host; other participants include Samuel L. Jackson and Blythe Danner. Young anticipates doing other projects.
Still, Young loves bookselling and books as much as any other bookseller. He also waxes poetic about used books. Noting that many older titles have letters or newspaper clippings left in them, he said it's often like "buying a living file cabinet. It's like the difference between a new house off the rack and one seasoned by another's personality."